Mars already has its own flag! It’s based on the Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, and is an ambitious statement about the journey towards terraforming Mars into another Blue planet.
The thing I love about the story of terraforming Mars is how fast the first stage can happen! Let’s call “Green” Mars a Mars that can at least start growing plants on the surface, protected by radiation and the beginning of a hydrological cycle. (Rain!)
“Blue” Mars is the hardest part, creating a breathable atmosphere. But “Green” Mars is certainly a far easier place to enjoy than sterile “Red” Mars as it is today! And “Green” Mars might only take 200 years!
Let me explain: all the ingredients are there to give Mars an atmosphere (not breathable yet) if we just warm it up! And we know how to warm a planet, because we’re already doing it here on Earth! Warming up Mars will move it to the start of the “Green” phase and give us 5 massive benefits within about 200 years!
This includes the first 100 years to build our first city of a million people and create a significant industry! According to Zubrin, it might only take 100 years to build a city of a million people, and then another 100 years of that city producing super-greenhouse gases to ‘cook’ Mars up. If we warm the poles, so many things change. Mars has enough frozen carbon dioxide at the poles to start a cycle that would eventually heat CO2 out of the Mars regolith and give it 30% of Earth’s atmosphere. 30% earth’s atmosphere gives us 5 huge advantages over the near vacuum on “Red” Mars today.
1. RADIATION PROTECTION:
Just like water, atmosphere can protect us from solar and cosmic radiation! No magnetic field is necessary to protect us from radiation at 30% earth air pressure! An artificial magnetic field would help, as it would stop the solar wind blowing the atmosphere away over millions of years. A satellite or space station at the Lagrange 1 point could broadcast a magnetic field which would protect the Martian atmosphere — and this itself would accelerate the warming process, as Mars has tiny volcanic emissions that would help build an atmosphere. https://goo.gl/417YKW
2. CLOTHES on the surface of Mars! We could rug up in warm clothes, and not need space suits. We would still need breather masks because the atmosphere would be mainly carbon dioxide. But imagine Matt Damon in “The Martian” being able to wear normal (warm) clothes as he worked around his base? Outdoor work would be safer and easier without a heavy, constricting, pressurised space-suit.
3. RAIN! The frozen water on Mars would start to melt and form the basis of a hydrological cycle. Rain on Mars! Amazing! The start of the hydrological cycle would probably generate massive erosion events, especially as Mars has no plant life holding the soil together. They’d have to build their city somewhere safe from all that, and it might even require large walls around it.
4 FARMING! Start farming on the surface! The radiation protection of an atmosphere and the start of rain on Mars would eventually allow farming on the surface. And there are nutrients on Mars, but just as on Earth, we might need to mine them and apply them as fertilisers. Just the ability to start growing forests for construction materials would be a huge relief to Martian colonists. And of course, trees would begin the long journey towards an oxygen rich world.
5. SAFER HOMES! Again, remember “The Martian”. Matt Damon’s potato habitat exploded because there was a massive pressure imbalance between maintaining one earth atmosphere inside against near vacuum outside. A third earth atmosphere would allow larger, safer habitats.
BUT HOW TO WARM A PLANET? ‘Easy’, do the same thing we’re doing on earth! Once a reasonable sized city is built on Mars, we can manufacture super-greenhouse gases that are 17,000 times more powerful than CO2. That alone would eventually do the job. There is enough thorium on Mars to power our civilisation forever. But when Mars has its own space industry it can build giant space mirrors to reflect abundant sunlight down to the planet for growing crops more efficiently, also warming Mars and the poles. Future Martians might even build giant rockets on large ice asteroids and fire them into Mars to aerobrake high in the Martian atmosphere, adding heat and water. Eventually they will walk on the surface in normal clothes and a breather mask. That is just the start. Farming on the surface opens up easier food, faster soil creation, and the start of the 1000 year journey towards a breathable atmosphere — which would finally become “Blue Mars”. But that’s a whole other story!